NAIAS: The Coolest Cars in Detroit
Michael Alba posted on January 25, 2019 |
Auto lovers congregate at the 2019 North American International Auto Show in Detroit. (Image courtesy of NAIAS).
Auto lovers congregate at the 2019 North American International Auto Show in Detroit. (Image courtesy of NAIAS).
You don’t have to be an engineer to love cars, but it doesn’t hurt. With powerful motors, precision manufacturing and elegant design, automobiles embody the spirit of engineering and provide a ubiquitous, striking reminder of what dedicated engineers are capable of creating. Plus, they’re fun to drive (at least until they start driving themselves).

The annual North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) took place this month in Detroit, Michigan, inviting car enthusiasts of all stripes to check out what’s on the vehicular horizon. With dozens of domestic and international automotive manufacturers on display—from Acura to ZF—there were wheels, windshields, drivelines, dashboards and falcon-wing doors aplenty.

There were also plenty of out-of-the-box concept cars, from the sleek-yet-incongruous Nissan IMs to the futuristic-looking GAC Motor Entranze. Also noteworthy were the numerous electric vehicles (EVs) and hybrids, which haven’t quite dominated the industry yet, but are starting to set the stage for a major revolution.

In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the most noteworthy vehicles on display at NAIAS 2019, including concepts, EVs, hybrids and one or two cars that are worth looking at just for the automotive envy. So, buckle up; we’re heading to the show floor.

Infiniti QX Inspiration

The Infiniti QX Inspiration concept. (Image courtesy of NAIAS.)
The Infiniti QX Inspiration concept. (Image courtesy of NAIAS.)
Let’s kick things off with a look at the sleek, polished and minimalist Infiniti QX Inspiration. This electric SUV concept comes from the luxury brand of Japanese automaker Nissan, and is therefore infused with Japanese DNA (their words, not mine). That DNA is put to good work, as the QX Inspiration is beautiful inside and out. The exterior is visually stunning, and according to Nissan’s Alfonso Albaisa, “the robustness and fullness of the body” expresses the power of the electric engine. There are two electric motors, one on each axle.
Interior of the Infinit QX Inspiration concept. (Images courtesy of Infiniti.)
Interior of the Infinit QX Inspiration concept. (Images courtesy of Infiniti.)
The interior is even more interesting. The rear door hinges from the back (sometimes called a suicide door) to open up a unified cabin, and the passengers are beckoned inside with a projection of floor lights meant to evoke a welcoming carpet. The front seats turn 30 degrees towards the entrants to increase accessibility. The widescreen monitor dashboard stretches across the front of the vehicle, and the square steering wheel features a monitor of its own. In anticipation of the driverless future, the steering wheel and pedals even retract to create more room for the driver.

The Ford Explorer Hybrid

The Ford Explorer hybrid. (Image courtesy of NAIAS.)
The Ford Explorer hybrid. (Image courtesy of NAIAS.)
The latest Ford Explorer isn’t notable for an outlandish design, but for the direction it signals for the automaker. The 2020 Explorer is the first in Ford’s popular SUV lineup to be offered as a hybrid. That makes it one of the first vehicles in Ford’s recent $11 billion investment in electrification, accompanied by a commitment to put 40 new electrified vehicles in production by 2022.

The new Explorer hybrid comes equipped with a 10-speed modular hybrid transmission, a 3.3-liter hybrid powertrain, and a liquid-cooled lithium-ion battery. The vehicle is capable of 318 horsepower and a range of 500 miles in the rear wheel drive model. The hybrid will be available this summer.

BMW i8 Plug-in Hybrid

The BMW i8 plug-in hybrid. (Image courtesy of BMW.)
The BMW i8 plug-in hybrid. (Image courtesy of BMW.)
The 2019 BMW i8 is a slick plug-in hybrid that’s even slicker in its roadster version. The sports car can be driven in a pure EV mode, which gives drivers 15 to 18 miles of range on battery power alone. In EV mode, drivers can hit speeds up to 75mph. Though 18 miles is fairly limiting, drivers’ range anxiety is alleviated by the i8’s 1.5-liter three-cylinder engine with 369 horsepower. Besides EV mode and hybrid mode, the i8 also offers an optimized performance with Sport mode.

Nissan IMs

The Nissan IMs concept. (Image courtesy of Nissan.)
The Nissan IMs concept. (Image courtesy of Nissan.)
Like the Infiniti QX, the Nissan IMs is a futuristic looking concept car infused with Japanese design principles. The IMs is also an EV powered by two electric motors, one on each axle. With a 115kWh battery pack, the IMs produces 483 horsepower and has an estimated 380 miles of range.

The Nissan IMs is also defined by a beautiful aesthetic. Like the Infiniti QX, the IMs has clean lines and a sleek profile that’s not marred by unsightly door handles. It doesn’t even have rear-view mirrors, relying instead on wing cameras that fold in when the IMs is in autonomous driving mode. Yes, there’s an autonomous driving mode, and the IMs has many features that kick in when the car drives itself. For example, the headlights and rear lights will turn blue and blink, letting other drivers and pedestrians know that HAL has taken control.

Interior of the Nissan IMs. (Images courtesy of Nissan.)
Interior of the Nissan IMs. (Images courtesy of Nissan.)

The interior of the IMs also has several notable features. The rear suicide door and rectangular steering wheel carry over from the Infiniti QX, but the two front seats pivot 180 degrees when the car is in autonomous mode, embracing the full cabin space. The back bench can seat three, but it can also be converted into what Nissan calls a “premier seat” by folding the two side seats down into armrests. In manual mode, the driver is presented with a transparent dashboard window in front of a more comprehensive display. On stage at NAIAS, Albaisa described it as reminiscent of a jet fighter cockpit.

GAC Motor Entranze

The GAC Motor Entranze concept. (Image courtesy of NAIAS.)
The GAC Motor Entranze concept. (Image courtesy of NAIAS.)
The Entranze, from China-based automaker GAC Motor, may be the most unique looking of the concept cars unveiled at NAIAS. The bullet shaped, elongated exterior is an interesting form factor, but the completely transparent sides seem like a bizarre design choice—and it’s not the only one.

Strangely, both the front and back doors slide open. Plus, on the inside of the Entranze, the seats are arranged in a 3-2-3 pattern, meaning there’s a bench up front for the driver and up to two shotgun passengers. The two seats in the middle are separated by what GAC calls an “aircraft-inspired aisle,” which leads to a second bench in the back. Finally, the interior is made of sustainable materials like cork, which complements the fact that the Entranze is an EV.

The doors of the GAC Entranze concept slide open to reveal the interior. (Image courtesy of GAC Motor.)
The doors of the GAC Entranze concept slide open to reveal the interior. (Image courtesy of GAC Motor.)

Though GAC Motor doesn’t currently sell its vehicles in North America, the company announced at NAIAS that it has registered its North American Sales Company in Irvine, California. The Entranze was also designed on American soil at the GAC Advanced Design Center in Los Angeles.

Hyundai Kona EV

The Hyundai Kona EV. (Image courtesy of NAIAS.)
The Hyundai Kona EV. (Image courtesy of NAIAS.)
The Hyundai Kona EV is simply an electrified version of the Hyundai Kona, a benign looking utility vehicle. Though it doesn’t pack the visual panache of some of the other vehicles on this list, the Kona EV is by all accounts an exceptional electric vehicle. Its 64kWh battery gives it an impressive 258 miles per charge, the best range of any EV that isn’t made by Tesla. Adding to its prestige, the Kona and Kona EV took home the Utility of the Year Award at the 2019 Detroit Auto Show Awards at NAIAS.

The Kona EV makes good use of regenerative braking, allowing drivers to select between five levels of regenerative deceleration. Its electric motor outputs 201 horsepower, which is 54 better than the non-EV Kona’s 147 horsepower. Even the premium non-EV Kona model, the Kona Ultimate, can only achieve 175 horsepower.

It just goes to show: electric really is better.

Cadillac EV

The Cadillac EV concept. (Image courtesy of GM.)
The Cadillac EV concept. (Image courtesy of GM.)
GM has decided to position their luxury Cadillac brand as their flagship for EVs. Though they didn’t have a prototype of the Cadillac EV concept at NAIAS, GM announced the first all-electric Cadillac will be a crossover SUV, pictured in the concept image above. Though this is the first pure Cadillac EV, Cadillac has previously released two plug-in hybrids: the Cadillac ELR and the Cadillac CT6. GM has produced EVs outside of the Cadillac brand, notably the Chevy Bolt, and the automaker is second only to Tesla in the sale of electrified vehicles in the US.

Though not much information has been released about the Cadillac EV, we do know that the car will use GM’s new BEV3 (battery electric vehicle 3) architecture, which GM President Mark Reuss describes as “the canvas upon which we will paint a profitable EV program.”

The End of The Road

We hope you’ve enjoyed this look at some of the most progressive vehicles at NAIAS. Since you’ve come with us this far, we’ll leave you with a few more interesting images from Detroit.

The Lamborghini Aventador. (Image courtesy of NAIAS.)
The Lamborghini Aventador. (Image courtesy of NAIAS.)

A Chevrolet Silverado made from Lego. (Image courtesy of NAIAS.)

A Chevrolet Silverado made from Lego. (Image courtesy of NAIAS.)

The 2020 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 in hovercraft mode. (Image courtesy of NAIAS.)
The 2020 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 in "hovercraft mode." (Image courtesy of NAIAS.)





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